Sunday 26 August 2012

Summer School

Our annual Summer School, for students of Thomas More College in New Hampshire and others, directed by Leonie and Teresa Caldecott, turned out to be great fun. The 2012 course concluded by looking at Christian writers of the later nineteenth and twentieth century who represent a “Catholic literary revival” – part of the Catholic resurgence prophesied by Newman in his “Second Spring” sermon of 1852, after the lifting of restrictions that had been imposed on Catholics since the Reformation. We studied the roots of this revival in the English Catholic culture before and after the Reformation, including the dissolution of the monasteries and the persecutions that followed. The conflicts and tensions in Reformation England were studied through the eyes of our greatest writer, William Shakespeare, with the help of Lady Asquith, author of the brilliant Shadowplay.

Thus for the the first part of the School we located the students at Downside Abbey, in the West Country near Bath, where the Abbot, Dom Aidan Bellenger, gave some superb lectures on the dissolution of the monasteries, and other lecturers spoke on the subsequent history of the Reformation. Downside is near to Mells, too, the family home of Lady Asquith, and there were excursions there and to Wells, Bath, and Glastonbury. Then off to Oxford via the White Horse of Uffington and the recusant house at Mapledurham, kindly hosted by the owner John Eyston (a direct descendant of St Thomas More).

In Oxford the students stayed at the Benedictine Hall of the University, St Benet's, and there we began to focus on the 19th century Catholic Emancipation, the Oxford Movement, and the Catholic revival itself, with G.K. Chesterton its biggest fruit (and here access to the Chesterton Library gave an almost sacramental connection to the great man himself). Visits to colleges, to C.S. Lewis's home at the Kilns, his grave in Headington Quarry and Tolkien's grave at Wolvercote, all helped to bring the ideas to life. (The picture shows Aidan Mackey and Stratford Caldecott with some of the students in the Chesterton Library.)

The last evening in Oxford was spent with Walter Hooper, C.S. Lewis's friend, and the final day involved an excursion to London, to see Westminster Abbey, St Thomas More's cell in the Tower of London, and a performance of The Taming of the Shrew at the Globe Theatre. The experience of a lifetime? Perhaps, though we hope to see many of our students return to visit us in the future.

Leonie, Teresa, and Stratford Caldecott

Photos are from our Facebook page. Watch out for announcements by the end of the year about next summer's programme!

See also the following posts:
Revival and Romanticism
Effects of the Reformation

Wednesday 15 August 2012

English Metrical Law

Coventry Patmore (1823-1896) was a distinguished English Victorian poet and essayist, well known in his time, who fell into undeserved obscurity during the twentieth century. He published his first small volume of Poems under the influence of Alfred Lord Tennyson in 1844. After receiving a cruel review he tried to destroy the edition, but it was too late, his career was already launched, and through the book he soon made the acquaintance of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, especially Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Holman Hunt, and began to move in their circles.

In 1877 Patmore published what everyone now regards as his best work, The Unknown Eros (encouraged by his saintly daughter, Mary Christina, who became a nun), and in the following year Amelia, his own favourite among

Thursday 9 August 2012

Rider of the Spaceways

As part of an occasional series on superheroes, this is extracted from an essay I wrote some time ago (not sure where) that concerns the moral effect of some comic books.

The Silver Surfer was one of Jack Kirby’s inventions for Stan Lee's Marvel Comics, a silver-skinned alien on a flying surfboard endowed with the “Power Cosmic” (the ability to play around with – reshape and transform – matter and energy). This meant he could generate really big explosions if needed, and was basically much more powerful than most other Marvel characters, if he used his full strength. But what made him interesting was that he usually didn’t. The Surfer was a victim. We’ll come back to that.

Why a surfer? True, it was the era of the Beachboys (the Surfer made his first appearance in 1965). It also looked very cool when he summoned his board while jumping into the air and soared away. The theory behind this

Tuesday 7 August 2012


Charlotte Ostermann interviews Stratford Caldecott about Beauty in the Word, and its predecessor, Beauty for Truth's Sake.

1. Fr. Giussani speaks of the ‘risk of education’. What risks do you think need to be taken in the education of a child?
The risk we take is that the child may question and ultimately disagree with us. There is a place in education for “learning by heart” and for the authority of the teacher, whose role and office is always worthy of respect, just is there a role for training in certain important practical skills, which must be taught by a master, but in the end the purpose of education is to free the mind to such a degree that the pupil can contemplate the truth directly. The child must outgrow the teacher. Thus the teacher – and this may happen at any time and in unexpected ways, not

Monday 6 August 2012

Themes of the book: 4

4. The Mother of the Liberal Arts. In the ancient sources, Wisdom or Sapientia (Greek Sophia) is sometimes identified with Christ, and he is shown standing or seated on the lap of Mary as the Seat of Wisdom. But often Sapientia is a female figure, and as such she is regarded as the "mother" of the seven liberal arts by Cassiodorus and Alcuin.

In the book, there is a section – the Endnote starting on p. 153 – where I explore this idea, along with the meaning of Beauty and the other Transcendentals that converge on God. I argue that the "Wisdom" of God can be identified with Beauty as something inherently "liberating". The Beauty or Glory of God corresponds at its highest point with the divine Infinity, the fact that God's own being is inexhaustible and therefore he is a continual delight to himself, a source of eternal rejoicing, of bliss. So the joy we associate with Beauty is a pointer to the depths of Being in God. And this Beauty is ultimately the same as that "Wisdom" described in the Books of Proverbs and Wisdom as being by God's side from the very beginning, perhaps as the divine idea of creation itself, or as a sort of "uncreated nature".
"For wisdom is more moving than any motion: she passeth and goeth through all things by reason of her pureness. For she is the breath of the power of God, and a pure influence flowing from the glory of the Almighty: therefore can no defiled thing fall into her. For she is the brightness of the everlasting light, the unspotted mirror of the power of God, and the image of his goodness" (Wisdom 7:24–6). 
The book tries to trace the way each of the "ways" of the Trivium contributes to the growth in wisdom. Through the mastery of language in memory, thought, and conversation, we become able to grow into our humanity, discovering a wider world and able to discern truth from falsehood, astute in judgment, in communion with others. But the process of education can be corrupted when its aims are lowered from the attainment of wisdom and subordinated to that of a career, or when the very possibility of attaining truth is denied on all sides.

Wisdom is the inspiration and the goal of the Liberal Arts, which are the "seven pillars" of the house of rejoicing, and love, and freedom. Each of the Arts was meant to prepare the ground of the body, soul, and spirit of man for the freedom in truth that comes from the knowledge of God, only finally attained when philosophy and theology give way to contemplation and union. For "we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, since we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2).

Saturday 4 August 2012

Themes of the book: 3

3. The Spiral Curriculum. The liberal arts, of course, are not everything. They were not the whole of ancient education either. For Plato a rounded education would begin with "gymnastics", meaning physical education and training in various kinds of skills, and "music" meaning all kinds of mental and artistic training. In the Laws (795e) he describes these as physical training for the body (including dance and wrestling or martial arts), and cultural training for the personality (including sacred music), so that young people spend practically their whole lives at "play"(sacrificing, singing, dancing: 803e) in order to win the favour of the gods.

The range of studies that were later codified as the liberal arts are to be built on this double foundation, and they in turn are for the sake of our growth in true inner freedom, in preparation for the highest studies – the contemplation of God, in philosophy and theology. In the Laws, Plato calls the liberal arts studies for "gentlemen", although he specifies that even the "man in the

Friday 3 August 2012

Themes of the book: 2

2. The Transcendentals. I find the triad of the Trivium (Memory, Thought, Speech, or if you prefer Grammar, Dialectic, Rhetoric) echoed in many others, from the Trinity of divine persons on down through the various levels of creation. The Trivium is therefore intimately bound up with the divine image in Man, which is a Trinitarian image. God himself is the source of Memory, Thought, and Speech (Being/Father, Logos/Son, and Breath/Spirit).

One of those triads is composed of the so-called "transcendental properties of being", meaning properties that are so "general" that they can be found in varying degrees in everything that exists. The three I mean are Goodness, Truth, and Beauty – although one might also look at the threesome of Unity, Truth, and Goodness. As I explain (Beauty in the Word, p. 157), such triads are impossible to align definitively with particular members of the Trinity, because they can be looked at under different aspects. In fact each is one of

Wednesday 1 August 2012

Themes of the book: 1

My recent book, Beauty in the Word (see right), a sequel to Beauty for Truth's Sake, covers a lot of ground, so I thought it would be helpful to readers if I produced a "study guide". In a series of occasional posts, I intend to look at some of the key themes and ideas in the book.

1. The Trivium. This is what the book is about. The word refers to three of the traditional "seven liberal arts" that were the basis of the classical and medieval school curriculum, namely Grammar, Dialectics or Logic, and Rhetoric. (The other four, the so-called "Quadrivium" of Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, and Astronomy, were discussed in the previous book.)

I must admit, when I was first asked to write on this topic, I wondered if it could be made interesting enough. The Trivium sounded a bit boring to me, as I'm sure it does to many people. The rules for correct speech and the dry bones of logic? Give me a break! But as soon as I entered into the subject I found unexpected vistas opening up. It was a bit like entering the Tardis (Dr Who's vehicle, larger inside than out).